More than 60 percent of Indiana schools receiving As and Bs in new grading system 

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INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Board of Education awarded As and Bs on Wednesday to more than 61 percent of the state's schools, while roughly 7 percent received failing grades.

The grades for hundreds of schools improved over last year, including many in districts facing significant social challenges. About 84 percent of those that moved up two or three letter grades are considered "high poverty" schools, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

"This is a very good day for Indiana schools. It's a positive day," Bennett told the board, which approved the grades unanimously.

The grades are based on revised formulas created by the Indiana Department of Education that include student test scores - and the growth in those scores - as well as progress in closing the achievement gap and career readiness indicators.

Among the results:
- Nearly 41 percent of schools earned As, about 20 percent of schools earned Bs, and more than percent of schools earned Cs. Nearly 19 percent of schools earned D or F grades, similar to last year's percentage and lower than in the 2009-2010 school year.
- 207 schools received As for the first time.
- 28 schools that received Fs last year earned Cs or higher this year. Eight schools moved from an F to an A.
- 43 schools moved up at least three letter grades.

But board members said it's important that schools with high grades resist any temptation to be satisfied with their progress. And they emphasized that improvement must be ongoing for schools to continue to receive high marks.

"We still have work to do," said board member Neil Pickett. "This is a much clearer way in my mind of helping schools and districts understand how they're doing and where they have to go."

Pickett urged the Department of Education to develop a way for the board - and the public - to evaluate how districts are doing as well, something Bennett said is staff is now working on.

The school grading system has been one of the more controversial elements of Bennett's first term in the superintendent's office and has been an issue in his reelection campaign.

On Wednesday, Bennett's opponent - Democrat Glenda Ritz - said the system is "flawed." She called for an independent audit of the data used to establish the grades and offered a different vision for meeting federal requirement relative to reporting school performance.

"From the start, Tony Bennett's A-F accountability system has been under fire," Ritz said in a statement. "This A-F grading system is the clearest way for voters to see the differences in our educational philosophy."

These are the first grades released since the U.S. Department of Education gave Indiana permission to develop its own assessment system and stop using the controversial No Child Left Behind measurements.

That means Indiana will no longer be releasing annual information about whether schools achieved what the federal government called "adequate yearly progress." Instead, that information is factored into the state's new system and reflected in part in the school grades.

The state also removed a cap that prevented high-achieving schools from earning As from the state if they'd failed to make adequate yearly progress in a specific sub-category of students. For school leaders, that had been among the most frustrating aspects of the old system.

"We had a number of what had been high performing schools that were capped at C because of that federal requirement," Bennett said. "There is a swing of schools up from C to A because they are no longer capped at a C level. That's another product of this model."

But Ritz said she would make a number of key changes. Among them would be the elimination of a pass/fail standardized test, more transparency in the overall system, and an emphasis on promoting "economic development for communities."

The Statehouse File is a news service powered by Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism students and faculty.

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